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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction. On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure. Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius dr…

Overall Book Review:

Feast of Sorrow is a delight for the literary palate. Set in the expansive and beautiful surroundings of the Roman Empire, this book is filled with intrigue, friendship, betrayal, and passion. Crystal King provides the reader with a glimpse into the lives of a Roman household and, by extension, the Empire around them, through the eyes of the family’s slave, Thrassius. This unique perspective allows her to detail everyday life in Rome, while also delving into the more sweeping problems of the Empire’s aristocracy. King does an excellent job of bringing the ancient world to life, through detailed research into the customs, dress, history, and especially the food of the time. She presents all of that historical knowledge to the reader without making the book seem like it’s a dry history, and she does this by populating her pages with characters that are in places lovable, loyal, despicable, or hate-able. This book includes some characters who were real, historical figures, and some who are completely fictitious, and they are all written with so much attention to detail that the reader cannot tell which are based on an existing person or not unless the reader has a prior extensive knowledge of Roman history. 

The narrative of this book moves along at a quick pace, with an occasional slowing of the pace to describe specific food, customs, or locations. These lulls in the action are brief and serve to give the reader a sense of calm in a storm, as many of the events in the book are tumultuous, and the brief breaks of calm allow a reader to catch their breath and enjoy the characters and their surroundings. Many of these interludes involve cooking, recipes, or the kitchen, and the book includes some actual recipes contemporary to the time period. These recipes are likely ones that the modern cook would find difficult to reproduce, as they will have neither the correct ingredients nor the tools mentioned in the recipe, but they are interesting looks into the culinary culture of the times.  This book is well-written, has an interesting and engrossing story, and leaves the reader as literarily satisfied as a Roman patrician after dining at an elaborate feast.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  19 mild obscenities; 13 derogatory names; 1 anatomical term; 2 offensive hand gestures.

Violence/Gore:  A few verbal threats; a character considers various ways to murder another; a few reports of rape, one of which is in public; a few reports of murders; mention of gladiatorial fights; report of a man hitting an old woman; a few reports of slaves beaten, sometimes to death; a few reports of death from natural causes; report of a miscarriage; report of an assassination; a few reports of executions; an attempted assassination; a few reports of deaths in war; report of husband beating his wife; report of a slave maimed as punishment; description of a brutal means of execution;a woman slaps a man, drawing blood; slaves are whipped a few times; a man punches another; a man kicks a boy;a parents slaps their child; an animal is killed in a bloody sacrifice; a man slaps a woman to calm her; a character hits another repeatedly; a few characters commit suicide, and one of these is in a bloody fashion; men fight, with blood mentioned but little detail, as part of a ritual; a character injures himself in a fall; a child chokes to death, and the scene is disturbingly emotional;large parts of a city are destroyed by arson; a scene in which a character is cut with a knife and bitten by an animal and dies; a few characters’ throats are slit; a character is murdered;a character cuts an animal open to touch and examine its entrails; a character’s limb is sawed off to save him (no details): a gruesome execution is carried out; description of a bloody form of torture; a ritual uses participants’ blood.

Sex/Nudity:  Male characters think about or mention how beautiful women are a few times; characters flirt verbally or cuddle, hug, and kiss a few times; a slave is naked at an auction (not sexual); woman breastfeeds a baby; a character walks through town naked after a bath; joking innuendo about a man being sexually excited; mention that a certain food is an aphrodisiac; a slave owner dictates who his female slave will sleep with; a crowd shouts unspecified lewd taunts at a couple; a man looks with sexual desire at a young girl; beautiful female slaves are given away as gifts; a few instances where a man thinks of how beautiful his lover’s body is (no description given); mention of an orgy; a ritual includes a doll with genitalia sculpted on it; a man admires a woman’s chest as she wears a low-cut garment; lewd graffiti is scrawled on walls; a woman takes herbs to prevent pregnancy; mention of the genitalia of an animal being eaten as a delicacy; characters caress each other in areas not normally covered by a bathing suit a few times; a few instances in which a man fondles an unwilling woman’s clothed breast; report of a man sleeping with his male slaves, and it is implied that he abuses them; report of a man using his female slaves for sex; a few reports of couples having sex; a few reports of characters having extramarital affairs; report of orgies;  a few reports of a character going to a brothel; report of a man watching others while they have sex; man and woman kiss and caress, and sex is implied to follow; report of adults having sexual relations with children (which was socially acceptable in the culture); report of two men having a sexual relationship; a woman talks about having a lover (no details given); implication that adults engage in sex with pre-teen boys; a man attempts to rape a woman in front of her young child; report of woman kissing teen boy on the lips;characters see prostitutes on the street a few times;a man and woman are naked together, and she caresses him in areas usually covered by a bathing suit, and her naked body is described in detail; an adult male caresses a preteen girl’s legs under her skirt;scantily-clad slaves serve at a banquet; a woman wears sheer clothing with nothing hidden; slaves serve food while naked, and a man gropes them;a young teen girl is married and pregnant (socially acceptable in the historical context); a few reports of rape, one of which is in public; a character instructs a woman to abort unwanted pregnancies; couples have sex with no explicit details given.

Mature Subject Matter:

Slavery is a major theme of this book; homosexuality; characters worship pagan gods and participate in magic rituals; characters consult astrologers and use divinations; separation from family; miscarriage; teen marriage/pregnancy (socially acceptable in the historical context); gambling (mention); banditry; death (child, spouse, parent, friend); arranged marriage; blackmail; rape (reported); suicide (carried out); characters have physical or sexual relationships with minors (socially acceptable for the time/culture); domestic violence; arson; murder; abortion (mention).

Alcohol / Drug Use:

This book includes a recipe for wine; adults drink wine; teens drink wine (socially acceptable/legal in the historical context); animals drink wine; characters drink absinthe; wine is used as a religious sacrifice; characters are drugged by others using narcotics; woman takes herbs to prevent pregnancy; characters are poisoned; characters take opium medicinally and recreationally.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.